purple screen with call being directed with skill based routing technology

Skill-Based Routing: Best Practices to Improve Customer Experience

Nicholas PriceLast updated on March 26, 2024
9 min

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Nothing frustrates customers more than being passed around from one sales or support agent to the next and having to repeat their concern over and over again. With the benefits of skill routing, that issue becomes a thing of the past.

There are a variety of ways to set up a phone system to route customer calls. Skill-based routing (SBR) is a feature of modern phone systems that will help improve your first-call resolution rates and ensure a good customer experience at every touch point.

What Is Skill-Based Routing?

Skill-based routing, also called skill-based distribution, is a modern phone system feature that picks up data on customers during incoming calls and automatically assigns them to agents with the skills needed to address their concerns.

Here are a few of the ways skill routing can help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs):

  • Call transferring is reduced and customers are more likely to resolve the issue on the first call. 

  • Average handle times drop, freeing up reps to focus on spending more time in high-value customer interactions.

  • Service rep turnover decreases because reps perform better and feel confident and proud of their work. 

An Example Demonstrating the Power of Skill Routing

To really see the benefits of skill-based routing in action, imagine the following scenario:

One of your best customers has a complex billing question. To compound the issue, your customer's first language is Spanish. The support agent that answers the phone realizes the customer needs to speak with a Spanish-speaking support agent and transfers the call.

The Spanish-speaking support agent has expertise in ordering parts but knows little about billing, so the call is transferred to the billing department. The billing specialist receiving the call only speaks English and finally transfers the call to a Spanish-speaking billing specialist.

The customer finally gets answers after the third transfer. This is not the best customer service. Far from it!

Now imagine a different scenario: The customer calls in and is walked through a series of automated voice prompts to determine their requirements. Based on their choices, the customer's call gets routed to a Spanish-speaking billing specialist from the start. That's the value of skills-based routing.

With skill routing, you get the benefit of intelligent routing. The system looks at the skills that a customer needs and matches them to an available agent best fit to resolve their queries. As in the example above, you can set up rules for agents that have multiple skills or those who are cross-trained in different areas.

Skill-Based Routing vs. Queue-Based Routing

Your communication platform's analytics will help you predict call volume to some degree. No matter how well you staff your SMB communication hub, there are bound to be times that customers have to wait on hold for a little while. An automatic call distribution system routes calls so they can be answered at the earliest possible time.

One of the most basic call routing systems is queue-based routing. You've probably been on hold at one time or another and heard a recording that said something along the lines of, “All of our agents are currently busy. Please hold and the next available agent will be with you.” 

The way it works is that your call is queued up and waiting in line behind the callers that dialed in before you. Others will undoubtedly be queued up behind you. Queue-based routing sends calls to one particular queue.

For example, your call might be sent to a queue where it will be answered in your preferred language or to a particular service level. The main thing is that a call only gets assigned to one queue.

By contrast, skill routing is more sophisticated. It evaluates the skills that are necessary to resolve calls and routes calls to sales or support agents that have the appropriate skill level and are available to take the call. With skills-based routing, you can set up rules for languages, skills and other appropriate parameters to get your customers to the best agent so they can get the help they need in a timely manner.

Skill-Based Routing vs. ACD Routing

Normal and skills-based routing both operate according to rules, but there are differences between them.

Simply put, standard ACD routing leverages automation to get calls to a sales or support agent quickly, without considering the agent's skills needed for the call. This opens up your business to risk as you may have to transfer the call, or else wait for a callback.

On the other hand, with a skills-based routing system, the callers might have to wait a little longer, but there's a good chance that the agent who answers their call will be able to help them in short order.

This is an important consideration when you're deciding which features of a cloud-based phone system you need to deliver the best possible customer service.

As an example, when a customer calls a health facility, there are many different medical departments and many different administrative departments. With a skills-based routing system, customers can speak to the radiology unit's billing department in their preferred language without the need for a call transfer. The skills-based routing system does all the work.

What Is ACD Routing?

ACD, or automatic call distribution, is a telephony software system that distributes incoming calls to the first available sales or support agent or to a specific department.

The idea behind ACD is to solve the problem of managing and distributing large volumes of calls. Like all call routing systems, ACD has call distribution rules. Routing works according to things like:

  • Time of day

  • Call traffic

  • Caller ID

An ACD works in conjunction with a cloud-based phone system and an interactive voice response (IVR) system to route inbound calls to someone able to help the caller. An ACD is a central component of a modern-day SMB communication hub and a key factor in improving the customer experience. 

How Does Skill-Based Call Routing Work?

Skill-based routing is an enhancement to ACD and it works slightly differently than a standard ACD routing system. In an ACD system, you would send calls to the first available sales or support agent. Skill-based call routing ensures callers speak to the agent best fit to answer their queries.

What makes skill routing so beneficial? Consider that technology has made communication easier than ever before, resulting in higher expectations of customer service. Also, consider that products have become more complex and services are more comprehensive than they used to be. As a result, small businesses have needed to expand to meet the growing needs of customers.

With skill routing, the system looks at an incoming call and decides which sales or support agents can help the customer based on which number the customer called, the caller's identity, and choices the caller made using the IVR system.

The right system ensures customers speak to a skilled and well-trained sales or support rep who can immediately provide good customer support. This replaces the need for multiple transfers if an agent does not have the necessary skill set.

What are Skill-Based Routing Rules?

Skill-routing rules are the conditions you set up in your ACD system to ensure that customers end up talking to the agent best equipped to assist them. Often, they show up as "if, then" rules. 

For example, a routing rule for a healthcare company might be “if there's a billing issue from a patient with a bill of over $10,000, then route the call to an agent on Team C (the high-charge billing team).”

The great thing about rules is that you can pretty much set them and forget them, checking in every once in a while to ensure they're still correctly configured.

Your phone and communications hub should allow you to set up custom rules that fit your specific needs.

The Benefits of Skill-Based Routing

Does skill-based routing really make that much of a difference? The answer is an easy “yes” when you consider the benefits of getting calls to available agents with the right skills in a short time.

Here are some of the major benefits of skill-based routing:

  • Sales and customer support reps can be more focused and intentional in their approach. They only get calls from customers they can help. When they get a call, it's “go-time”! They can get right down to the business of helping the customer without giving a second thought to rerouting the call.

  • Skill-based routing streamlines communication, decreases first-response time, improves your first-call resolution rates, and maximizes productivity.

  • Ticketing is simpler and easier to manage with skill-based routing. It's easier to categorize and assign tickets, which will save your employees hours of time. The software automatically keeps track of which agents have specific skills.

  • Having the ability to customize routing rules allows you to set up efficient workflows and adjust them as your needs change.

  • Enhanced productivity, increased efficiency, and greater customization and personalization are the foundation of providing a good customer experience.

Taken together, the benefits of skill-based routing all lead to enhanced operational efficiency, improved revenue growth, and higher customer and employee satisfaction for small and medium-sized businesses. 

15 Factors to Consider When Selecting an IVR System

Let's look at 15 factors to consider when selecting an effective IVR system to ensure you have a winning skill-based routing strategy:

1. Queue notifications:

Updates customers about where they are in the queue and their estimated wait time.

2. Multiple hold messages:

Avoids repetition and boredom.

3. Queue opt-out:

Provides customers with an easy way to opt-out of the queue.

4. Adjustable music-to-message ratio:

Provides the right balance of music and messaging.

5. CRM integration:

Gives sales and support agents lots of data.

6. Voice activation (think Alexa or Siri):

Smoothes out interactions and provides convenience for customers.

7. Specific messaging:

Automates greetings based on past interactions with recordings like, “Is this about your New York hotel reservation?”

8. Automatic callback:

Automatically calls customers back when a sales or support agent is available.

9. Reporting tools:

Provides a granular view of IVR interactions and dropout rates at various stages of the customer journey.

10. Personalized IVR messaging:

Allows you to customize messages to proactively inform customers of problems and when you expect to resolve them.

11. SMS capability:

Allows customers to opt-in for SMS updates and push notifications.

12. Call flow customization:

Allows you to integrate other tools to customize call flows.

13. Call deflection:

Allows you to deflect calls to other channels like SMS or live chat.

14. IVR command optimization:

Prioritizes the most popular options for new callers.

15. Context preservation:

Preserves the context of conversations when switching channels or when a customer requires a call back.

How Omni-Channel Skill-Based Routing Improves the Customer Experience

Phone calls, texts, chats, and emails are the communication norms of today. An omni-channel approach to marketing, selling and customer support creates a consistent, cohesive experience for your customers that spells customer satisfaction.

Using an omni-channel feature allows your business can:

  • Deliver consistent messaging

  • Respond quickly

  • Respond accurately and appropriately

  • Personalize interactions

  • Engage reliably, transparently, and seamlessly

  • Proactively meet customer needs on any channel and device

Aircall makes it easier than ever to install and implement a versatile cloud-based phone system with omni-channel routing capabilities. It includes not only skill-based routing, but all the routing features you need such as IVR, queue callback, time-based routing, voicemail, insight cards, and much more. Aircall is a cost-effective way for small businesses to drive efficiency and deliver the best possible customer experience.

Published on April 21, 2021.

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